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The England verdict on the return of the fit-again Manu Tuilagi

By PA
England's Manu Tuilagi (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

England are ready to thrust Manu Tuilagi straight into their Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland following his recovery from a groin problem. Tuilagi has been added to Steve Borthwick’s squad for their fallow week training camp in London having missed the opening two Guinness Six Nations rounds because of the injury sustained in December.

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If the 32-year-old centre plays at Murrayfield on February 24 it will be his first appearance for nine weeks, but England are confident he would rise to the occasion.

Defence coach Felix Jones said: “Manu had a little bit of a run around out there Wednesday. It wasn’t anything too intense but he looked good.

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“He has done it a number of times where he has come back from injury with low levels of game time but still been able to perform at a very high level. Experience accounts for a lot in those situations.”

If Tuilagi proves his fitness in training over the coming days, Borthwick must decide whether to break up the centre partnership of Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade that started the victories over Italy and Wales or confine him to a bench role.

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Tuilagi provides the ability to punch over the gainline currently lacked by the back division and England know that Scotland will build much of their attack around their own muscular carrier Sione Tuipulotu.

The prospect of Ollie Lawrence being available for the round three showdown in Edinburgh is less certain as he overcomes a hip injury. The Bath powerhouse, another midfield option, was involved in training on Wednesday and a clearer picture of his readiness will emerge over the coming days.

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Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and lock George Martin are both in contention against Scotland after being added to Borthwick’s 36-man training squad.

Cowan-Dickie was forced to withdraw from the original Six Nations squad after an undisclosed medical condition materialised when he was on club duty for Sale.

His availability will relieve the pressure on captain Jamie George, whose workload has been increased by the lack of experienced alternatives in the position.

Martin’s fitness will be welcomed by England, who benefited from his menacing display against South Africa in the semi-final of last autumn’s World Cup – his most recent international appearance.

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The 22-year-old had tweaked his knee, ruling him out of the start of the Six Nations, but will look to secure a place in the second or back row against Scotland.

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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